Legal Aid Society of Orange County and Community Legal Services (LASOC-CLS) achieves victory in court on behalf of low-income residents of Huntington Beach.

Legal Aid Society of Orange County and Community Legal Services (LASOC-CLS) achieves victory in court on behalf of low-income residents of Huntington Beach.

In March 2018, plaintiffs in Kennedy Commission v. Huntington Beach filed a First Amended Petition in Superior Court, alleging that the City of Huntington Beach violated housing laws by adopting a specific plan amendment that prevents affordable housing from being built in the city. The city’s decision makes it even more difficult for low-income Huntington Beach residents to find housing in the city.

On June 7, 2018, the Court rejected the city’s arguments that the case should be dismissed, allowing Plaintiffs to proceed with discovery and litigation.

“This case is about making sure that low-income Huntington Beach residents are included in the government’s calculation,” said Sarah Gregory, lead attorney with LASOC-CLS. “The city must accommodate affordable housing units to ensure the well-being and stability of its residents, many of whom have been unable to keep up with the skyrocketing rents in their city.”

The Huntington Beach City Council adopted the Beach Edinger Corridor Specific Plan Amendment (“BECSP Amendment”) on May 4, 2015, despite months of efforts by the Kennedy Commission and the two displaced veterans, who had been forced to leave Huntington Beach due to the lack of affordable housing in the city. The City of Huntington Beach had refused to comply with previous court orders, continued to enforce the BECSP Amendment, and appealed a January 20, 2016 judgment in favor of the Petitioners.

The BECSP Amendment effectively blocked any low-cost housing in the City, imposing a development cap, burdensome parking, setback, height, and use restrictions, and costly and time-consuming discretionary permit requirements. “This years-long effort to force the city to simply comply with state law and its own Housing Element, the ‘Constitution’ for development, reminds all of us that we must remain vigilant to ensure the inclusion of affordable housing.” said Gregory.

New Workshop: Limited Conservatorship en Español

LASOC/CLS would like to announce that our Limited Conservatorship Workshop will now be offering it’s first workshop specifically for Spanish-speaking litigants. The first Spanish Workshop will be held on Monday, February 6th at 12:00pm in the Santa Ana Court in Room A-100. The workshop will explain what a Limited Conservatorship is, the process for obtaining a Limited Conservatorship, common problems and a review of the forms needed to obtain a limited conservatorship.

We will likely hold this workshop in Spanish at least one more time during the year. Therefore, this is a rare opportunity. If you would like to attend our Limited Conservatorship Workshop in English, it is the first Monday of every month at the Santa Ana Court in Room A-100, with the exception of holidays.

From Gerontology to Attorney: Volunteer Spotlight on Peilin Ngo

From Gerontology to Attorney: Volunteer Spotlight on Peilin Ngo

Peilin Ngo pictured left, Jill Hiraizumi pictured right.

Our Volunteer Spotlight allows us to highlight the amazing work our volunteers do for the community every single day. This month’s spotlight is on Peilin Ngo who has been a volunteer with the Legal Aid Society of Orange County’s (LASOC) Senior Citizens Legal Advocacy Program  and Elder Abuse Workshop since August 2015.

Peilin developed a deep passion for working with the elderly after witnessing the challenges of the aging process through a close family member. Upon obtaining her Master of Arts in Gerontology at San Francisco State University, Peilin started working as a Social Worker at an adult day health care center. But when it came to helping seniors, Peilin found there were limitations to her role. “As a Social Worker, I felt my ability to help my clients was hamstrung by my lack of knowledge about the legal process,” explains Peilin. “I would find myself referring clients to other organizations. ‘I can’t help you, but you can contact this attorney’ type of thing. I wouldn’t know what happened to my client and that really bugged me.”

This frustration motivated Peilin to go to law school to acquire additional skills and knowledge to better assist the senior population. “I wanted to see how I could make a difference for my clients in a bigger way,” affirms Peilin. While enrolled at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, Peilin met Bill Tanner, an LASOC Directing Attorney, who came to the campus to talk about LASOC’s programs and services. This is when Peilin first heard about the Senior Citizens Legal Advocacy Program.

“I was very interested in the program,” remembers Peilin. “I always wanted to work with low income populations, especially seniors.” So after graduating from Whittier Law School in 2014 and passing the bar exam, Peilin started volunteering with the program.

“Law school doesn’t teach you practical aspects of practicing law,” reflects Peilin. “I was hoping that by being at LASOC and working with seniors I would be able to not only learn the legal process but also work with my desired client population on a legal level.”

Whether by meeting with her clients at LASOC or visiting them in senior homes or at their residences, Peilin’s heart for working with the elderly was evident. “Peilin is very passionate about helping our clients,” says Laura Luu, an LASOC Staff Attorney who works closely with Peilin. “There are many seniors who can sleep better at night because of her assistance.”

A particularly memorable client Peilin worked with was Sandra,* an elderly woman involved in a debt negotiation case. Sandra had a large credit card debt and had been paying a private attorney to assist her. But when Sandra ran out of money, her attorney abandoned her. With no resources or knowledge on what to do about her situation, Sandra called LASOC hoping someone, anyone, could help her. Peilin took on Sandra’s case and helped her prepare for her hearing. “The judge determined Sandra’s bank account contained exempt funds, and therefore, could not be garnished or levied by the creditors,” recalls Peilin. “Sandra was facing serious health issues at the time, so when her case had a positive outcome she was so relieved. I went to visit Sandra at her house after the hearing, and she had prepared a huge hot pot dinner for me. She was so thankful; I won’t forget her.”

While volunteering at the LASOC Elder Abuse Workshop, Peilin met her future business partner, fellow Whittier Law School alumna, Jill Hiraizumi. Both quickly bonded over their shared a passion for working with low income seniors. “It’s funny because I didn’t know Jill while she was at Whittier because she was a year ahead of me,” explains Peilin. “We just started talking a lot; she wanted to do estate planning and I wanted to get into elder law. One thing led to another, and now we are doing estate planning together!”

This year, Jill and Peilin formed Hiraizumi & Ngo, LLP, an estate planning, probate, and trust administration firm based out of the OC Community Law Offices, an extension of LASOC which sits adjacent to the LASOC headquarters in Santa Ana.

“My connections with LASOC have allowed me to get advice on not just legal issues, but also on how to be a better attorney. Whenever I have a question, Bill and Laura have always opened their doors to me,” says Peilin.

“Mentorship is huge here,” says Bill. “It’s not just about what our volunteers can do for us, but it’s also about what we can do for them. How can we help them in their personal and professional goals to make them better attorneys and advocates?”

“It seems things have just fallen into place for me,” smiles Peilin.

When Peilin is not volunteering or working, she likes to spend time with her family, her two cats, and her dog.

If you are interested in volunteering with LASOC, contact us at


*Name has been changed to protect identity.


Wise Words: Seniors and Consumer Issues

Wise Words:  Seniors and Consumer Issues

When people retire, they naturally assume that life is smooth sailing henceforth. After decades of hard work, they believe that they can enjoy the rest of their days in leisure. Unfortunately, that is not usually the case for many seniors. For many retirees, the reality of retirement means having to live on a fixed income—usually in the form of Social Security retirement benefits. In a world where the cost of living is always on the rise, that income is often insufficient. One car repair or medical bill can mean financial ruin for many seniors. Instead of a worry-free living, retirement may mean many sleepless nights wondering how to pay for basic needs or mounting credit card bills.

Bankruptcy may be an option, but is often not necessary if a senior only receives federal government benefits, and does not own any property of significant value. Federal government benefits typically include Social Security and Veterans’ benefits.

Before a creditor can garnish a person’s income or attach liens on their property, they must first sue the debtor and obtain a judgment against them. Once a creditor obtains that judgment, they can attach any non-exempt property or income from the debtor. Social Security and Veteran’s benefits are generally exempt and cannot be touched by creditors. In 2011, Congress went a step further to protect seniors by establishing rules for the garnishment of accounts containing federal benefit payments that are directly deposited into a financial institution such as banks and credit unions.

Under the federal rules, a bank has the duty to identify such accounts and protect them from levy or garnishment. When served with a garnishment order issued against a debtor, the bank must perform an account review. If the account review shows that a federal agency deposited a benefit payment into the account during the previous two months, then the financial institution must calculate and establish an amount of money in the account to be protected.

California law complements the federal law and goes even farther by declaring that a bank account that receives Social Security benefits by direct deposit is automatically exempt up to $2425 for one designated payee and $3650 where two or more designated payees share an account.

What this basically means is that if a judgment creditor attempts to freeze a bank account containing only federal government benefit such as Social Security benefits or Veteran’s benefits, the bank will not freeze the account and the judgment debtor need not do any further action. The Federal and Californian laws, however, do not apply when the levy is based on a family support order or if the levying entity is the federal government.

If you are an Orange County resident age 60 years or over and have questions about collection issues, you can call the Senior Citizen’s Legal Advocacy Program of the Legal Aid Society of Orange County at (714) 571-5245. There, you can discuss your issues and have them individually evaluated.

LASOC Welcomes Summer Law Student Intern Class of 2014

LASOC Welcomes Summer Law Student Intern Class of 2014

With the end of the 2014 school year, Legal Aid Society of Orange County and Community Legal Services of Southeast Los Angeles County has welcomed a new class of summer law student interns.  Every summer, LASOC and CLS accept interns from law schools all over Southern California (and sometimes the state and country) to serve our local client community.  PAIlawyers_resize

This year’s interns hail from Whittier Law School, Western State, UCLA, Pepperdine, Southwestern, USC, Loyola, Chapman, Trinity Law School, UCI and more.  They also represent all class levels: 1L, 2L, and 3L.  In both Los Angeles and Orange counties, they will serve victims of domestic violence, assist in eviction defense, attend to divorce and child custody cases, and lend services to administrative law cases such as termination or suspension of government benefits and elder law.

We are excited to share that our interns have already begun important work for our low-income families and senior citizens in the area.  Our interns will provide their services researching, writing, and (for those who are certified) representing our clients under the supervision of our dedicated staff attorneys.  During their internships, these interns will gain invaluable lawyering skills, such as interviewing and identifying fact patterns, all while serving clients who may otherwise not have another chance.

Congratulations, and welcome!



Wise Words: The Red Flags of Elder Abuse

The Senior Citizens Legal Advocacy Program (SCLAP) provides free civil legal services to Orange County residents age 60 and over.  SCLAP is a part of the Legal Aid Society of Orange County (LASOC), which provides free civil legal services to persons of limited means and seniors living in Orange and southeast Los Angeles County.  In providing legal services to older Orange County residents, we are well aware of the growing incidents of elder abuse.

Orange County has about 496,404 residents age 60 and older, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.  Studies have shown that an estimated 1 in 10 community-dwelling older Americans will become a victim of abuse or neglect.  Research has also shown that elder abuse is significantly under-reported, with approximately 23 cases unreported for every reported instance of elder abuse.  There are certain risk factors that can be useful in anticipating the likelihood of abuse.  In her article, When the going gets tough:  caregiving and abuse, author Mary Twomey notes that caregiver characteristics associated with mistreatment include higher anxiety, depressive symptoms, fewer social contacts and greater perceived burden.  Care recipients who are isolated, have cognitive impairment and who themselves are physically or psychologically aggressive are at greater risk for abuse.

With the growing elderly population, the increase in the number of elderly experiencing dementia and related diseases, and the anticipated rise in abuse, it is important to be aware of the Risk Factors for abuse.  Elder abuse includes not only physical abuse, but psychological and financial abuse as well as neglect.  Some of the Red Flag warning signs of physical abuse may include inadequately explained fractures, bruises, cuts or burns.  Red Flag warning signs of psychological abuse may include the isolation of an elder or actions by a caregiver that are verbally aggressive or demeaning, controlling behavior or neglect.  Red Flag warning signs for financial abuse can include a change in living standards, unable to meet basic needs, or transferring property or authority when unable to understand the nature of the transaction.  Signs of self-neglect can include a lack of basic cleanliness, lack of adequate food, inappropriate clothing and unexplained sores or injuries.

We are very fortunate in Orange County to have excellent resources addressing elder abuse issues.  The UCI Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect has helpful information on its website about events and resources regarding elder abuse.  The Ageless Alliance, a nationwide social justice movement seeking to promote the dignity of older adults and to end elder abuse, was launched by the UCI Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology.  The Ageless Alliance is active in Orange County and is promoting Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which will take place June 15th.

We all need to be aware of the signs of elder abuse and what to do if we suspect that elder abuse is occurring.  In Orange County, you can call Adult Protective Services to make a confidential report or to discuss making a report.  The APS phone number is 1- 800-451-5155.  If you suspect that abuse is occurring in a residential care facility, you can contact the Orange County Council on Aging – Long-Term Care Ombudsman at 1-800-300-6222.  If you suspect abuse of an elder that takes place outside of Orange County, you can call the national Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, at 1-800-677-1116, for a referral to the appropriate organization.